Ahead of the news on the Transcon

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, July 15, 2010

I learned long ago to pay attention to anomalies, that is, the totally unexpected. On a late Friday afternoon in 1962, I’m in the Santa Fe Railway tower in Holliday, Kan., waiting for the Chief, Kansas Cityan, and Tulsan to whiz by at five-minute intervals. But in front of them all, racing its way out of Kansas City, comes a four-unit set of FT diesels hauling 100 flatcars, each of them adorned with a U.S. Army tank. Most unusual! I ask Don, the second-trick operator, where the train is headed. Galveston, Texas, he replies. I can’t imagine why.

Three days later, out of the blue, President Kennedy announces a naval blockade of Cuba, because Soviet missiles on that island are pointed at us. Later it is revealed an invasion of Cuba was considered; that’s why the tanks were on their way south. Like I said, pay attention to anomalies, and you’ll be ahead of the news.
So here I am in July 2010, driving with my friend Tom alongside BNSF Railway’s Transcon through eastern New Mexico. And what do we encounter? Not one or two or even three or four, but five westbound baretable trains, two of them a dozen minutes apart. A baretable, by the way, is an empty intermodal car. It’s as if every terminal in the eastern half of the railroad is told: quick, send L.A.-Long Beach everything you’ve got! So here come trains for Los Angeles from Fort Worth, Kansas City, Chicago, and Willow Springs and Joliet, Ill., in a six-hour period. Two more baretable trains come west the next day.

Mindful of that train of military tanks lo those many years ago, I ask a friend at BNSF what’s cooking in L.A. Just a little imbalance, he replies. In fact, he adds, there’s an imbalance in the other direction on the Northern Transcon, with Seattle-Tacoma sending baretables to Chicago.
Of course, I don’t believe a word he says. A “little imbalance”? You can’t fool Frailey. You people in Southern California, look out to sea. Odds are you’ll see an unending line of container ships steaming in from China, rushing to restock the shelves of Target and Wal-Mart. I declare this economy recovered from the recent unpleasantness. — Fred W. Frailey

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